Bi­ol­o­gists Paul and Cathy Keddy spent decades buy­ing up land in La­nark County. Then they gave it all away.

Ottawa Magazine - - Volume 18 | Number 2 - BY MOIRA FARR PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY DAVID TRAT­TLES

Bi­ol­o­gists Paul and Cathy Keddy spent decades buy­ing up land in La­nark County. Then they gave it all away.

The four-wheeler is cher­ryred and mas­sive, the kind Cana­dian Forces use to get around in war zones. On this driz­zly sum­mer day, it’s not on an over­seas mis­sion, but rather rolling up and down a rocky trail in La­nark County, a halfhour drive west of Ot­tawa. It’s per­fect for trav­el­ling through these thick forests, around an­cient boul­ders, past fallen farm build­ings aban­doned long ago, and along­side marshes where great blue herons nest and rare species of flora grow hid­den in the depths. And it’s an es­sen­tial piece of equip­ment be­cause the stew­ard of this ex­pan­sive tract of land, Paul Keddy, a 62-year-old re­tired pro­fes­sor of ecol­ogy, suf­fers from chronic fa­tigue syn­drome and can walk only for short spells.

The ATV comes to an abrupt stop over a boarded culvert. “Just check­ing for frogs and snakes,” says the bearded bi­ol­o­gist, his glasses flecked with rain. This is a rit­ual in­stilled by his now six-year-old grand­daugh­ter Emma. “‘Don’t run over Sun­shine!’ ” says Keddy, with a deep chuckle. Sun­shine is a frog Emma named last time she ac­com­pa­nied her grand­dad on an ex­cur­sion through this land­scape.

As­sured that no am­phib­ians are be­ing harmed, we roll on into the for­est. Keddy and his wife, Cathy, also a bi­ol­o­gist, live on the edge of this land. Tech­ni­cally, they still own it, but the fu­ture stew­ard­ship of the prop­erty, which is about 600 acres (or al­most a square mile), is now in the hands of the Mis­sis­sippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) in per­pe­tu­ity or at least for the next 999 years. The trees won’t be logged; the land won’t be tilled; the boul­ders won’t be dy­na­mited out of their bil­lions-of-years-old rest­ing places; the herons’ nests won’t be de­stroyed to make way for con­do­mini­ums, golf cour­ses, or shop­ping cen­tres. The rhythm of non-hu­man life will con­tinue, more or less undis­turbed, over the com­ing cen­turies. Those who might like to make a quiet ex­pe­di­tion to ob­serve it — lo­cal field-nat­u­ral­ist clubs, school groups, vis­it­ing aca­demics and sci­en­tists — will be welcome to tread the ter­ri­tory, tak­ing care to leave be­hind as lit­tle trace as pos­si­ble of their pres­ence.

If Amer­i­can en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Aldo Leopold, au­thor of the 1949 clas­sic, A Sand County Al­manac, were alive to­day, he would hold up the Ked­dys as prime ex­am­ples of what he called “bi­otic cit­i­zen­ship.” He re­ferred to his own book as “a plea for the preser­va­tion of some tag-ends of wilder­ness, as mu­seum

pieces, for the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of those who may one day wish to see, feel, or study the ori­gins of their cul­tural in­her­i­tance.” No doubt Leopold would ap­prove of the land do­na­tion, as do many oth­ers to­day — es­pe­cially those who know how im­pres­sive it is that two not-wealthy peo­ple, with sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cles in their way over the years, suc­ceeded in their goal to leave be­hind a rich eco­log­i­cal legacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy and ap­pre­ci­ate. In dol­lars, the land is worth mil­lions. In eco­log­i­cal terms, the longer it re­mains wild, the more valu­able it be­comes.

“We were thrilled,” says Howard Clifford, a found­ing mem­ber of the MMLT and the first donor of land, in 2009, un­der the trust’s con­ser­va­tion ease­ment agree­ments. Clifford ran a wilder­ness school for many years and, with his knowl­edge and love for the area, has ac­crued sta­tus as “the old man of the moun­tain.” Clifford’s land is a 1,250-acre ex­panse of for­est and scenic out­crop­pings with stun­ning views from the top of Blue­berry Moun­tain, the high­est point in La­nark County. He has a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the Ked­dys’ land covenant with the trust. “It’s not just 600 acres. At a larger scale, it’s hon­our­ing the history of La­nark County and keep­ing a broad nat­u­ral cor­ri­dor in­tact.”

The rain is more than driz­zle as we ar­rive back at the Ked­dys’ home and run for the door. A whim­si­cal hu­man-height wooden frog hold­ing a para­sol greets visi­tors from its spot in the spa­cious foyer. Framed prints of flora and fauna hang on the walls. A glass-doored wooden cab­i­net dis­plays a Buddha statue, along with leather-bound works of Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy. The cou­ple’s six cats (in­door cats — no bird hunt­ing al­lowed) loll on sofa backs, trot silently across the hard­wood floors, or leap onto a visi­tor’s lap. It’s a cozy, crea­ture-lov­ing, live-and-let-live kind of place. Paul Keddy sits at the din­ing room ta­ble, a satel­lite map of the area spread be­fore him. His fin­gers trace the green and blue of the map as he re­counts the history and rai­son d’être of the cou­ple’s land pur­chases.

He and Cathy met over 40 years ago while at­tend­ing a lec­ture at the Univer­sity of Toronto. When they mar­ried in 1975, they bought their first 100 acres of La­nark for­est, with help from Paul’s par­ents. (Paul had spent some of his child­hood years in Ot­tawa and Car­leton Place; he was born in Lon­don, On­tario, Cathy in Toronto). The pur­chase was a fit­ting way, they thought, to celebrate their new union. The two had fallen in love with the prop­erty af­ter walk­ing through it in spring and find­ing a huge heronry — over 20 nests — in one of its wet­lands. In the ini­tial years, they con­tin­ued to ex­plore their new prop­erty while liv­ing in Ot­tawa and rais­ing two sons (Martin, now 30, and Ian, 27). Paul taught at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa; Cathy was an eco­log­i­cal con­sul­tant on land-man­age­ment plans for public parks and pri­vate land across Canada. They built a small cabin on the land and spent sum­mers en­joy­ing the peace­ful set­ting with their sons. “You feel re­spon­si­ble for it,” says Paul, re­call­ing the early days, when log­ging and de­vel­op­ment were eat­ing up sur­round­ing land at an alarm­ing pace. “You’d see how one act of stu­pid­ity could cause such great harm,” he says of the de­nuded land­scapes and bull­dozed wet­lands that soon dot­ted the area. It only made the cou­ple more de­ter­mined to buy as much land as they could.

Ob­sta­cles to their plan were con­sid­er­able. In 1989, Paul be­came ill; soon, he could no longer work full-time, a sit­u­a­tion that caused both fi­nan­cial and emo­tional stress. (Paul says some col­leagues did not un­der­stand his con­di­tion.) For­tu­nately for the fam­ily, he was even­tu­ally of­fered a much more flex­i­ble po­si­tion with the Univer­sity of Louisiana. But be­fore they moved to New Or­leans, they built their cur­rent house and started ex­pand­ing their land port­fo­lio, bit by bit. Their eldest son was in high school when Paul took the po­si­tion in Louisiana; the fam­ily re­turned to the prop­erty dur­ing the sum­mers. Af­ter Paul’s re­tire­ment in 2007, the cou­ple moved back to live on their land full-time.

As Paul points out the orig­i­nal prop­erty out­lines on the map and the sub­se­quent land pur­chases they made, he and Cathy talk about some of the hur­dles they faced in the process. Not only did they take on sub­stan­tial debt, they met peo­ple whose con­cern for na­ture preser­va­tion was not a pri­or­ity.

“The last prop­erty was the tough­est, and we were able to buy it only af­ter the landowner had quite de­lib­er­ately in­creased the price and sold the log­ging rights, just to be spite­ful,” wrote Cathy in the April 2014 edi­tion of the MMLT news­let­ter, which an­nounced the land do­na­tion.

Some might ex­press as­ton­ish­ment at the largesse and won­der how the Ked­dys’ sons feel about not re­ceiv­ing what might have been a

“Most peo­ple would not be this for­ward-think­ing,” adds Thompson of the cou­ple’s decades-long com­mit­ment to pur­chas­ing

and ul­ti­mately pre­serv­ing such a large piece of land — es­pe­cially an area that con­tains “provin­cially sig­nif­i­cant” wet­lands and keeps in­tact a broad, nat­u­ral cor­ri­dor

for species move­ment.

huge fi­nan­cial in­her­i­tance. They’re not both­ered: the Ked­dys have pro­vided ease­ments on the land so that if their sons wish to build on it in the fu­ture, they can. Both have fond mem­o­ries of those sum­mers in the cabin with their eco­log­i­cally minded par­ents, though Martin says he and his brother didn’t have quite the de­gree of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for it as young boys that they have now. It was only later that they un­der­stood what their par­ents were try­ing to do. “I feel an emo­tional at­tach­ment to the place and wouldn’t have the heart to do any­thing to it,” says Martin over the phone from New Or­leans, where he works in the automotive parts busi­ness and where he and his wife are rais­ing Emma and baby Eleanor. (Ian works in the graph­ics in­dus­try in Den­ver.)

“My par­ents, be­ing Bud­dhists, al­ways gave us the op­tion to pur­sue what­ever we wanted. They taught us the im­por­tance of let­ting go of those things you can­not con­trol and learn­ing to deal with chal­lenges,” says Martin. “I get why they would rather do this than spend money on ex­pen­sive sports cars and lux­ury cruises.”

Man­ag­ing land in this man­ner is def­i­nitely far re­moved from a cruis­ing lifestyle. With care­fully de­vel­oped covenants in place for han­dling the land in the fu­ture, the Ked­dys and their land-trust part­ners are “crack­er­jack stew­ards,” says Shaun Thompson, a Kemptville-based bi­ol­o­gist with the On­tario Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry. “Most peo­ple would not be this for­ward-think­ing,” adds Thompson of the cou­ple’s decades­long com­mit­ment to pur­chas­ing and ul­ti­mately pre­serv­ing such a large piece of land — es­pe­cially an area that con­tains “provin­cially sig­nif­i­cant” wet­lands and keeps in­tact a broad, nat­u­ral cor­ri­dor for species move­ment.

Thompson par­tic­i­pated in a “bioblitz” on the prop­erty last year, when he and over 30 vol­un­teers com­piled a list of the 778 species of flora and fauna that call the area home.

Thompson says he en­joyed his day on the prop­erty, par­tic­u­larly the find he was re­warded with af­ter wad­ing waist-deep into a marsh be­hind a wall of wil­lows, through thriv­ing cat­tails and float­ing wa­ter lilies. Sur­rounded by the pri­mor­dial cho­rus of bull­frogs, marsh wrens, Amer­i­can bit­terns, and Vir­ginia rails, he dis­cov­ered, grow­ing be­neath the sur­face of the wa­ter, the lichen known as flooded jellyskin. That dis­cov­ery alone, of a plant once listed as “threat­ened” on the On­tario Species at Risk list, means the wet­lands must be pro­tected.

Stand­ing be­side his red ATV as I leave, Paul lets out a roar­ing laugh. “I tell my kids I want to be buried Vik­ing-style, sit­ting in this thing.” As an ecol­o­gist and a Bud­dhist, Keddy nat­u­rally ap­pre­ci­ates the in­evitable cy­cle of death and re­newal — and the rare wis­dom it takes to let a pris­tine piece of na­ture be, for no more sim­ple, yet pro­found, rea­son than be­cause it’s there.

Thanks to two wise, gen­tle, and de­ter­mined peo­ple, it al­ways will be.

Green light Paul (above) and Cathy (right) Keddy ad­mire trees on their La­nark County prop­erty

Land lovers The Ked­dys fell for each other, and this land, over 40 years ago. They bought the first 100 acres of land shortly af­ter they mar­ried in 1975 as a way to celebrate their union

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